WILMINGTON, MA — Wilmington residents Matthew Cayer and Lauren Nieuweboer recently suffered a parent’s worst nightmare — the loss of their 8-month-old son Julian.
In the face of unimaginable grief from their personal tragedy, Matthew and Lauren are trying to bring a little bit of joy to other Wilmington families in honor of Julian’s memory.
Recently, the couple organized a free ice cream truck event for the Wilmington community at Yentile Farm on August 25. The date had great significance — it would’ve have been their son’s first birthday.
Now, the couple is hoping to start the process of bringing a splash pad to Wilmington, and they’d like to organize a fundraising campaign to cover its construction costs.
Matt, and his father George, were on hand at last week’s Wilmington Recreation Commission Meeting, where Recreation Director Karen Campbell and the commissioners held initial discussions on the feasibility of a splash pad in town.
“[The Cayers] have been in discussions with Town Manager Jeff Hull, Health Director, DPW Superintendent Mike Woods, and myself,” said Recreation Director Karen Campbell. “We’ve all tossed this idea around to try to figure out if [a splash pad] makes sense and how it would work.”
Campbell recognizes a splash pad would be popular with Wilmington families.
“Certainly, everyone loves a splash pad,” said Campbell. “Kids love them. And parents love them because kids love them.”
The Town’s Concerns
Town officials do, however, have several concerns — including location, maintenance, and cost.
“This would require a certain amount of land to do it properly. We just can’t put down a little slab and have things shoot out of it,” cautioned Campbell. “You really need to have a significant apron around it in order to not have dirt, mud and grass tracked into it. You need a perimeter fence so no one is tempted to drive a vehicle through it or animals roam through it. It needs to be of a fairly significant size… You also need ample parking.”
“[Splash pads] also require a lot of maintenance,” noted Campbell. “They’re very susceptible to constant breakdowns. They need to be swept perfectly to keep debris out. Their filters must be checked daily. Their recirculated water also needs to be tested everyday.”
Campbell said that while the splash pad wouldn’t be staffed with a lifeguard or any town employee, someone would need to maintain it — likely someone at DPW — who can conduct tests, make minor repairs, and change filters.
“A splash pad would have to be incorporated into DPW’s regular routines,” said Campbell.
Campbell noted that the Health Department also shared some concerns over the possibility of a splash pad.
“There’s communicable diseases associated with water of any kind,” said Campbell. “There’s also athlete foot — that kind of stuff can be an issue.”
“And splash pads are significantly expensive,” added Campbell. “This would range anywhere from $100,000 to $500,000.”
“We don’t want to put a financial burden on the town or its DPW,” responded George Cayer. “If it’s done correctly and structured correctly, people love the splash pads.”
The Cayers asked the Recreation Commission to research the Marlborough Splash Pad, which they feel would be a good model for Wilmington. They advised the Commission to avoid the mistakes of Tewksbury’s new splash pad.
Location, Location, Location
The Cayers asked if Yentile Farm, Town Beach, or the new playground area at Murray Hill Circle could be an appropriate spot for a splash pad?
“A splash pad was discussed early on for Yentile Farm, but it was eventually taken off the table for funding and maintenance reasons,” recalled Campbell. “Now, the only space [for a splash pad] at Yentile would be on the green/event space. But the intention was for that space to be used for passive recreation — picnics, frisbee, casual little games. It was also supposed to be a spot for community events — WCTV Family Fun Day and the Senior Center’s Grandparents Day are happening there this weekend. The Farmers Market has used it a couple of times.”
“And there’s only 109 parking spots at Yentile. With all the use at the playground and turf field, I do not think Yentile would a suitable site for a splash pad,” continued Campbell. “But if some of the Textron land ever became available that was continuous to Yentile, that would be plenty big enough. But right now, Textron is a no go.”
Campbell also dismissed Town Beach and Murray Hill Circle as realistic options.
“Our Town Beach is really just too small to put a splash pad in,” said Campbell. “Winchester put one in on their town beach and sand constantly clogs it. They said it was the worse decision of all time… And we already encounter non-residents who don’t want to pay to access the beach. How is it [going to go over] when we have to charge them to use the splash pad at the beach?”
The Murray Hill Circle playground, meanwhile, was recently constructed by a developer who is putting in 36 homes off of Eleanor Estates. The playground, and trails surrounding the development, are open to the public. (The playground still lacks plants, trees and benches at the moment.) The playground, however, is simply too small too accommodate a splash pad.
Funding, Funding, Funding
Campbell stressed that the town has more than $150 million of building needs identified and cannot commit to funding a splash pad at this time.
“The schools are really desperately needing. [Look] at the Wildwood. Many seniors feel it’s their time [relative to a new Senior Center]. And we just put in a big park,” said Campbell, referring to Yentile Farm.
“We’re ready to help in fundraising this along,” Matt Cayer told the Campbell and the Commissioners. “We haven’t set up a specific fundraising campaign yet. We figured it’s a bit premature without having a foundation or knowing how this discussion would go.”
Cayer noted his family recently tarted an informal petition and has received many signatures in support of bringing a splash pad to Wilmington.
“Any project of this scope that depends on fundraising needs a backup plan. Would that fall to town?,” asked Recreation Department Clerk Linda Kanter. “Would the cost then be spread out amongst tax payers for something that was originally intendned to be given to the town or funded by fundraising…. I’d want to know what the backup plan is if fundraising doesn’t meet its goals.”
“We don’t see this as a today or tomorrow project,” responded George Cayer. “The first bulldozer won’t do anything until the project is fully covered…. The plan is the project’s costs would have to be covered before work were to begin.”
“Without a site, a recommendation or an approval, we’re not even at the start line of this marathon,” added Matt Cayer. “If we put a project plan together, it would be hard to begin fundraising or donating money without a cost or location. It’s kind of a chicken or the egg situation.”
“Thank you for introducing this to us tonight,” Campbell told the Cayers. “We’re willing to listen to anything you bring to the table and consider it. And, remember, [the Recreation Commission] is not a decision-making board. We’re a a recommending board. We typically make our recommendations to the Board of Selectmen.”
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